After being arrested in the Dominican Republic, an Afropean woman, Emma (Clarisse Albrecht) escapes after a horrible accident and is sheltered by 3 minors Cuki (Euris Javiel), $hulo (Arturo Perez) and T.I.N.A. (Scarlett Reyes), in a dangerous district of Santo Domingo. Somewhere along the way Emma becomes more than a woman they’re shielding from authorities, but a protégée and maternal figure. It is through this trajectory she sees her destiny change in ways she never would’ve thought possible.
Director Ivan Herrera has crafted a complex, yet endearing story of survival, cultural similarities and differences in a world laden with contraction. Beautifully shot, the camera serves as it own character as it keeps a watchful eye while weaving and bobbing though each one’s struggles. Emma desperately wants to return to France without the complication of being thwarted by authorities, Cuki wants to escape being recruited for the family business, T.I.N.A. is a miniature, female ‘Scarface’ who runs the island along with her brother $hulo, who just does as he is told. When she witnesses the calming, positive effect Emma has on her little brother, knowing plans are being made to exterminate Emma, T.I.N.A. makes the painstaking decision to get them off the island with the same drug money collected for her Uncle . Love of country – love of siblings – love of freedom conquer all was we watch them hop into a rowboat in order to inhabit a different way of life free from stress and hiding.
This film belongs to Clarisse Albrecht who owns every moment – spoken or unspoken. Her performance is riveting and makes Bantu Mama as intriguing as the script she’s given to bring Emma to life. Anyone who has ever been away from home, knows the importance of family whether biological or chosen. Up until her arrival in the Caribbean, her chosen family was her beloved bird in France. One of my favorite scenes was watching Cuki take a dip in the river where once again the camera’s point of view illustrates the coolness he feels in the water on the surface and below. Or, when $hulo is getting his rhymes together coupled with the makeshift family bonding over a meal.
Bantu Mama broke my heart, but filled me with joy watching a cultural story from a vantage point we don’t often get to see in cinema unfolding from a female gaze and journey. I’m always down for THAT type of storytelling.